Michael Hoey’s victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last week is a boon to many struggling pros.
Unfortunately, his story is also a curse.
The Northern Irishman has now won three times on the European Tour, but his road to success hasn’t been smooth. Hoey won the 2001 British Amateur Championship, played on the victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team that year, and then set out with high hopes of making it in the pro game.
Hoey failed to make much of an impression in his early years on tour. He was the proverbial yo-yo player, shifting between the main tour and the European Challenge Tour. There’s an army of such players, those good enough to compete on the junior circuit but not quite good enough to make it in Europe’s premier league.
Hoey paid six visits to the European Tour Qualifying School after turning professional in 2002. Eventually the persistence paid off. In 2009, he won the Estoril Open de Portugal. This year he added the Madeira Islands Open before hitting pay dirt at St. Andrews. The €852,428 he’s earned this year, €588,148 of which he won at St. Andrews, is nearly €60,000 more than he won in his previous seven years on the main tour.
It’s a great story. It’s a tale that provides inspiration to those currently going through the preliminary stages of the European Tour Q-School. And therein lies the curse.
Hoey’s story encourages too many to keep chasing elusive dreams.
Even a perfunctory look at the players currently trying to get their cards will tell you it’s a tough ask. Former marquee names in the amateur game are still trying to make it years after turning professional. The Challenge Tour and mini tours are full of players who, as amateurs, seemed too good to fail.
What I find bewildering is the number of players who just can’t give up the ghost. Year after year the same names seem to appear at Q-School. Sadly, many have nothing to fall back on. They have wagered all their chips on success in the professional game and have nowhere else to turn.
As if that isn’t depressing enough, amidst the former name amateurs are players who think because they’ve been a big noise at their golf club or in their local area, they’re somehow going to find riches on the European Tour.
You can’t blame the minnows for wanting a piece of the action. There’s a fortune to be made on the European Tour.
However, many of those players going through European Tour qualifying right now need to take a good hard look at themselves. If players with a good track record can’t make it, then those who’ve done little besides win their club championship are probably going to struggle.
Most dreamers need to take a more realistic approach. First of all, they need something to fall back on in case the dream becomes a nightmare. Secondly, they need to set a time frame in which to make it. Despite Hoey’s success, I’d say if a player hasn’t succeeded within four years, then it’s a pretty good signal it isn’t going to happen.
But don’t expect Q School numbers to fall. There were eight venues for the first stage of qualifying alone, with another four for second stage before the Q School proper where 30 players get tickets to the European Tour.
A total of 563 people entered first stage and paid £1,350 for the privilege. That’s over £750,000 into the European Tour coffers.
There seems to be a never-ending stream of European Tour dreamers.